Trees and Forest: Dynamic Stillness

By Annie B. Kay

Photo courtesy of Kelly Sinclair

Photo courtesy of Kelly Sinclair

When I first connected with the spirit of trees, I spent a lot of time in tearful apology, begging forgiveness on behalf of all human kind but most particularly me. I love that they barely blinked. They absorbed my plea and do what trees do best - what we call in yoga Sankalpa practice (the practice of imbued being). We humans have the other side - doing - down, but being, not so much. 

The grandmother of the property where I live is hidden low in plain sight. Because she grows in a dip behind a hill, starting down 10 or 20 feet, she is under-appreciated for her impressive strength and beauty— with roots like white anaconda rolling out from her trunk.

I’ve been an esoteric student for some time, and have the opportunity to study with quite a few masters. This year I’m on break from the fabulous humans, and my primary teachers are this grandmother tree, and a white pine, another soberingly huge tree, at the front of the property.

Early in the season, I traveled in Greenbreath  in order to hear more deeply what grandmother tree had to say. Greenbreath is a form of transformational breathwork developed by Pam Montgomery after working with Dr. Judith Kravitz's breathwork practices. Greenbreath is performed in communion with a plant and has a high vibrational resonance, so has the capacity to break energetic imprints and thus provides opportunity for spontaneous healing. It can be psychically challenging so is best performed under the supervision of a trained Plant Spirit Guide.  Before the journey I was nervous--my Grandmother Tree has been surrounded by poison ivy, which has landed me in the emergency room more than once and with whom I have some serious relationships issues. As I breathed with her I wept - I’m not proud of the ways I’ve treated poison ivy - she’s witnessed that. I begged her forgiveness and told her that whatever she asked, whatever guidance she provided, I would follow. Yipes. Let the poison ivy grown and visit her no more?

In the journey I was taken back to my own grandmothers, and felt the love that I think only a grandchild can feel. Oh to again be the golden child who could do no wrong, before responsibility and culpability and guilt kick in. It seemed lifetimes since I’d felt like a golden child, the apple of my grandmother’s eye, so I basked. I soaked it in. Good medicine for this time of confusion and suffering. And beauty. She let me know she has faith that I can figure out poison ivy.

Photo Courtesy Kelly Sinclair

Photo Courtesy Kelly Sinclair

Then she gave me this teaching - she opened up and let me deep inside, to the still, quiet place within her. Inside was silence. Deep velvet caramel sap-sticky silence. In yoga parlance (you must admit that I have great vocab) - Samadhi - a unitive integrated state born of complete immersion in all that is - wholeness or enlightenment, depending on your point of view.

No surprise, there is a growing body of research suggesting health benefits of spending time amongst trees. Researchers in Japan have all but launched a hot trend called forest bathing, which is in essence walking mindfully in wooded areas. Walking as meditation, breathing deeply (which activates the vagus nerve that wanders from our brain stem down our torso, enervating the lungs, digestive, sex organs and more and activating the parasympathetic side of the nervous system for rest-and-recovery), we inhale phytoncides (wood essential oils). While walking mindfully and breathing calmly and deeply with trees, we create an interior biochemistry that, as a 2010 review reported, lowers concentrations of cortisol, lowers pulse rates, lowers blood pressure, and enhances parasympathetic nerve activity. Studies with positive results have also been done in people with diabetes, and those with chronic stress.

As we create places of relaxation, play and renewal - sanctuary - what the big trees around me have taught me (again) is that ultimately sanctuary is an inside job. We, dear plant lovers and healers, are sacred gardeners. At our best we are tenders of souls, models of a new way of being.

May we, as we create environments of sanctuary for the beings of this world - this cruel and crazy world that breaks our hearts a million ways to Sunday - find the peace-filled inner strength - the Samadhi - to carry on creating and tending this garden of life.

Annie B Kay is an integrative dietitian nutritionist, yoga therapist, and plant spirit alchemist who teaches and writes.

Tsunetsugu, Yuko; Park, Bum-Jin; Miyazaki, Yoshifumi (2009). "Trends in research related to "Shinrin-yoku" (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing) in Japan".Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine. 15 (1): 27–37. PMC 2793347. PMID 19585091. doi:10.1007/s12199-009-0091-z. Park, Bum Jin; Tsunetsugu, Yuko; Kasetani, Tamami; Kagawa, Takahide; Miyazaki,

Yoshifumi (2009). "The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): Evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan". Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine. 15 (1): 18–26.  PMC 2793346. PMID 19568835. doi:10.1007/s12199-009-0086-9.